ActivePaper Archive Former ward seeks permission to sue state - The Providence Journal, 12/10/2011

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Former ward seeks permission to sue state

Nicholas Alahverdian, who says he suffered abuse in state care, wants statute of limitations waived

PROVIDENCE — A former General Assembly page who was a ward of the state because he had an abusive upbringing is trying to persuade a federal court judge to declare that it is not too late for him to sue the state, some officials and some private youth shelters.

At issue is the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit and other kinds of claims. In Rhode Island, a personal injury case cannot be brought more than three years after the injury became apparent.

Nicholas Alahverdian, 24, who said he now attends Harvard University, charges in a suit filed in February that he suffered years of abuse while in state care as a youth. He wants financial damages and improvements in the care of youths by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families and the private agencies to which the DCYF sends them.

“It really is a moral issue,” Alahverdian said outside U.S. District Court Friday. “It’s a question of justice.”

“America can’t be America,” he said, unless the requirements of a state law called the Children’s Bill of Rights are met and individual freedom and independence prevail.

The DCYF has said that it won’t comment on pending litigation.

His challenge, according to U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr., is to show that he is entitled to an exception to the statute of limitations.

I am, Alahverdian said through his lawyer, Matthew H. Fabish, at a hearing in McConnell’s downtown court Friday. For one thing, Alahverdian said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder arising from the abuse he suffered in state care and that the PTSD made it impossible for him to manage his daily activities. His condition left him incapable of complying with the statute, Alahverdian argues in his court pleadings.

The statutory clock arguably did not start ticking, he contends, until his repressed memories of the abuse bubbled up when two DCYF workers visited him in November 2010.

The DCYF and other defendants have asked Judge McConnell to dismiss the suit because, they say, it was submitted too late under the statute. McConnell said Friday that he might convert the dismissal motion to a motion for summary judgment, but he made no decision on whether the suit may go forward.

Alahverdian is excused from having to meet the statute for the years that he was a minor, so the period in dispute is right after he turned 18, from July 13, 2005, to approximately early 2007, the judge said. He must show that he was suffering from “an unsound mind” during that period and that the clock would not have started to run then.

Assistant Attorney General Bren-da Baum, who represents the DCYF and other defendants, and other lawyers for the defendants scoffed at Alahverdian’s contention that he was of unsound mind, and they complained that Alahverdian has shown no link between the alleged abuse and his PTSD.

During the period that McConnell framed, Alahverdian worked as a page and legislative aide, held down two full-time jobs, registered himself as a lobbyist, addressed the Rhode Island House of Representatives Finance Committee, attended college, filed suit in Florida and founded a special-interest nonprofit organization called NexusGovernment.

So how can he claim that he was incapable of managing his daily activities in that time span, the defendants’ lawyers wondered aloud.

Fabish countered that Alahverdian “bounced” from college to college and could not keep his jobs due to his mental state.

McConnell Friday removed from the case some of the out-of-state defendants, including one or more youth residential facilities in Florida where Alahverdian alleged he was neglected and abused. He dropped them after having been informed by Fabish that a separate suit filed by Alahverdian in Florida no longer is pending. Outside court, Fabish refused to say what happened to the Florida litigation. gsmith@providencejournal.com

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